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Microsoft emails reveal a very savvy PR machine

Microsoft does many things wrong, but media management is not one of them.

Yes, the Microsoft "Vista Capable" emails demonstrate a fair amount of bungling within Redmond of the Vista product launch, but they're far more interesting in what they reveal about Microsoft's involvement with reporters and analysts, as TechFlash's Todd Bishop reveals.

Microsoft worried about (and sought to immediately address) the media's fascination with Apple, tried to guide coverage of Vista, and pushed to ensure that analysts felt Microsoft's confidence in Vista.

For example, the summary of Microsoft's meeting with several Gartner analysts in October of 2006 is fascinating, and made more so by Jamin Spitzer, group manager of Worldwide Analyst Relations at Microsoft, who suggests that two objectives of the meeting with Gartner were to create "confidence in the Vista product, OEM/Retail channel, and device/app compatibility," as well as "provide Gartner 'wiggle room'."

Though Spitzer never indicates what he means by "wiggle room," presumably he was hoping to give Gartner room to write a positive review of Vista, despite its problems. In 2005, Gartner suggested that enterprises could take a pass on Vista until 2008. Apparently, the "wiggle room" didn't work, as Gartner continued to advocate holding onto XP rather than going with "Vista Capable," as Vista would not be "all that easy to roll out" and declaring that it simply wasn't ready for prime time.

Strike one for Microsoft.

Microsoft, however, fared much better with Rob Guth, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Sometimes accused of having a pro-Microsoft bias (but one that actually does his homework, regardless), Guth wanted to talk with Microsoft about Windows. The company agreed in order to provide "balance," as Tom Pilla, director of Public Relations, wrote to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in November 2006:

Rob is working on a story about the future of Windows which will look to provide a view into future releases as well as the role services may play. While we'd rather not have Rob write such a piece at this time, we are engaging with him to provide balance and accuracy.

Microsoft, in other words, apparently viewed Guth as someone to balance out other negative reviews of Windows and its near-term foibles. The meeting translated into a cautiously optimistic article on Vista in January 2007, a nice mention of its Vista-based Surface product in May 2007, and an article on the "pioneers" rolling out Vista within enterprises in September.

Base hit for Microsoft.

More generally, these emails as well as the others demonstrate that Microsoft does a good job of managing the media, including analysts and reporters. I think it would be too strong to suggest that Microsoft manipulates the media; if anything, the emails reveal a collegial but respectful interaction with the media.